Dying of the planet

The Montreal conference on biodiversity was always, predictably, heading towards failure, writes Eddie Ford. Because of the Capitalian, the sixth mass extinction of species is already upon us

Though it might have escaped your attention, strangely getting very little publicity on radio, TV and in the mainstream press, the Montreal Cop15 convention on biodiversity has been meeting. Originally scheduled for China in October 2020, it was delayed due to the Covid pandemic - though China remains the president.

Governments negotiate biodiversity targets only once a decade. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was first opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on June 5 1992. There are three stated aims - conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of the components of biological diversity, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources.

Targets were last agreed in 2010 at Cop10 in Nagoya, Japan. Among other things, there was a solemn pledge to halve the loss of natural habitats and expand nature reserves to 17% of the world’s land area by 2020. You will not be surprised to learn that governments have failed on every count. After all, leave aside North Korea, maybe Cuba, the dominant mode of production is capitalism, and capitalism is predicated on self-expansion. The system has no interest, either in ecological conservation or “the fair and equitable sharing” of resources.

What was meant to happen at Cop15 was the adoption of a framework designed to address overexploitation, pollution, fragmentation and unsustainable agricultural practices; a plan that safeguards the rights of indigenous peoples, which recognizes their contributions as stewards of nature; and “alignment of financial flows with nature” to drive finances toward sustainable investments and away from environmentally harmful ones. Typical diplomatic vaguery.

Cop15 appears to have hit the buffers almost immediately. Reporters write of a “Copenhagen moment”, a reference to the 2009 UN climate summit that ended with a weak and fudged final agreement. Throughout there have been complaints about an alleged “leadership vacuum” from China, though it is difficult to tell whether or not this is true. After all, the US and its allies are in full anti-China mode and will use every opportunity to stir the shit.

However, there can be no hiding how bad things are. Some scientists argued that the biodiversity summit was “vastly more important” than the recent Cop27 climate meeting in Egypt. There is, after all, the danger of the sixth mass extinction. We are talking the Ordovian, Devonian, Permian, etc, and now the Capitalian. You can see why. One million species of the 8 million remaining on planet Earth are reckoned to be facing extinction due to human activity - or to be more accurate the capitalist rape of nature and its resources.

Of course, evolutionary history includes extinctions as a norm. More than 99% of the four billion species that have existed on the planet have died out one by one. The last mass extinction occurred 65.5 million years ago when a giant asteroid plunged into what is now the Gulf of Mexico and wiped out the dinosaurs.

Since 1900, nearly 500 species have been lost. And not because of an asteroid or some other cosmic event. Tasmanian tigers, Caspian tigers, Pyrenean ibex, Caribbean monk seals, Western black rhinoceroses, Pinta Island tortoises, Barbary lions, Sicilian wolves, Japanese sea lions, Xerces blue butterflies, Guam flying foxes … all victims of relentless capitalist expansion.


Just as the 1.5°C target dominated the Cop27 climate conference, one of the central themes of the biodiversity convention was protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030 (“30x30”). Many want it to be a “floor, not a ceiling”, saying the world should actually be pushing towards 50% as part of an important step to protecting half the planet for the long-term survival of humanity - a vision championed by the famous Harvard biologist and ecologist, EO Wilson, often described as “the father of biodiversity” and the supposed “natural heir” to Charles Darwin.

But 30x30 is actually just one of more than 20 targets debated at Cop15, yet in some respects it was also one of the most contentious issues on the agenda. This was because of the association with “fortress conservation”, a top-down model essentially based on the idea that biodiversity protection is best achieved by creating protected areas where ecosystems can function free from human disturbance.

Since the 19th century, this has resulted in millions of indigenous peoples being displaced from their homelands. Therefore there were demands to make the language more positive, with a focus on “rights-based conservation”, meaning that indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) are seen as “protectors of land”. Special pleading. As if indigenous peoples, who make up just 5% of the world’s population, can remain aloof from capitalism, its buying off of leaders, its offers of employment and the baubles of consumer culture. No, surely, leaders, the better placed, the ambitious will fall into temptation. Indigenous people will divide along class lines.

There was also national haggling over other aspects to the 30x30 target. Should every country protect 30x30? Or, should it be, instead, a global target? This puts some countries on the hook and lets others off the hook. Biodiversity in Iceland, Greenland, Easter Island and the countries of the Maghreb, eg, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, is - for various reasons, human and natural - incredibly limited. The same goes for the countries of the Arabian peninsula. Is it logical that they should pay countries with more biodiversity, as some sort of punishment?

No, the whole Cop approach and its endless round of speechifying, posturing and shaming needs to be seen for what it is: capitalist governments denying responsibility, attempting to shift the blame and seeking corrupt opportunities.

Eg, in their opening statement to Cop15, a group of “megadiverse” countries, crucially Brazil, India and South Africa, pleaded that the 30% target requires significant financial and technical support. Anyone who thinks that means wealth being transferred to the impoverished masses is a fool. No, it means the fat bank accounts, the wide pockets, even the sofas, of Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi and Cyril Ramaphosa.

To say the very least, any hope in Cop15 must have been dashed by the fact that Justin Trudeau was the only national leader to speak. The rest sent performing puppets.